The North Carolina Baroque Orchestra, the brainchild of artistic director Barbara Blaker Krumdieck, filled the storefront hall of The Tipsy Teapot to capacity and then some; about twenty were regretfully turned away for want of space. By squinting hard one could imagine oneself in a concert salon in Venice or Hamburg. The twenty musicians were ranged with their backs to the front window, with the handsome Gothic frieze of a vacant building across the street and a constantly-changing parade of those tattooed and shirtless solitaries who wander the streets of Greenville on Sunday afternoon for a backdrop. The concert was presented by John O'Brien as part of the Music House series albeit in a different venue due to the size of the ensemble.
The opening piece, some nineteenth-century music not on the program, was Patty and Mildred Hill’s little ditty, played and sung in honor of Artistic Director Krumdieck. What a splendid way to celebrate!
Then conductor Frances Blaker opened with a fast performance of the allegro from Vivaldi’s La Tempesta Di Mare. Crisp and assured, with strong contrasts between forte and piano, this piece set the high standard for intonation and playing together that characterized the entire concert.
The "Marche pour la Cérémonie des Turcs," one of three pieces from Lully’s music for Molière's Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, brought on stage Jingling Johnny, in this case a tambourine fastened to a staff and bedight with tassels of curly ribbon. Conductor Blaker luckily missed her toe every time she struck Johnny on the floor in this funny little piece of Janissary music. The other pieces were "Le Sommeil" and "Chaconne des Scaramouches, Trivelins et Arlequins."
The strong, sweet, vibrato-free voice of Erica Dunkle was delicious in Morley’s “Joyne Hands,” Dowland’s “Awake, Sweet Love,” and the traditional “The Water is Wide,” accompanied by Richard Krumdieck, recorder, Gesa Kordes, violin, Barbara Blaker Krumdieck and Sally Blaker, cellos, and Dan Smith, archlute, in an arrangement by Smith. Stanza one was voice and lute; stanza two added cello; three added violin; four added recorder and a second voice line, taken by Smith. The arrangement built to a climax through the four verses, then diminished gradually after the singing was done. Ending with a few measures of lute solo would have been a wonderful way to focus on the soft sound of that instrument. Dunkle has a surprisingly wide range, as fine low as high, never sounding forced, but capable of powerful volume and tender softness.
The largo and presto of Telemann’s Concerto for Recorder and Flute paired up R. Krumdieck, recorder, with Rebecca Troxler, flute, along with the six violins, two violas, two cellos, violone, and organ. Conductor Blaker’s handling of concertino versus ripieno was excellent here, as throughout the concert. Troxler and R. Krumdieck enjoyed a complete communion of musical spirit in all areas, including intonation.
Following intermission, with four or five wines to taste and excellent canapés by the Tipsy Teapot, Conductor Blaker attempted to help the orchestra tune, but the incredible chutzpah of some of the Pitt-County demi-bourgeoisie was making things difficult. An ear-splitting whistle stilled the yackers enough for Blaker to ask for quiet, explaining that the quieter it was, the quicker the tuning could be accomplished, but 'twas in vain. The meaningless “hello how are you I’m so glad to see you I fry mine in deep fat were you here the last time” roared on unabated until tuning was complete, then stopped immediately when the sounds of tuning were no longer there to mask the rudeness.
The next act was a goodie: Dunkle singing “Lascia chi’io piange” from Handel’s Rinaldo, led by principal violin Gesa Kordes. The nice recitative was followed by a most musical rendition of the aria, with minimal to no vibrato, under Dunkle’s perfect control, and delicious little turns and graces in the melody.
Conductor Blaker offered a program-music interpretation of Biber Sonata VIII, with printed descriptions which she explained were what she heard when she was learning the piece.
Bach’s ABA aria “Leget euch dem Heiland unter,” S.182, has a text that is typical German pious gibberish of the period; Dunkle read a translation to us. She should have just sung it; a page from the telephone directory would have been just as effective. Paired with Letitia Berlin, recorder, Dunkle again displayed her excellent control over vibrato and her impressive range. The brisk B section was especially effective.
The finale was four movements from Telemann’s Water Music, known as "Hamburger Ebb und Fluth": Ouverture, Sarabande: "Die schlaffende Thetis," Loure: "Der verliebte Neptune," and "Der stürmende Aeolus." The recorder, one of the more difficult instruments to master, seems to be given therefore to school children to learn music on. The ghastly result of twenty soprano recorders playing the "Blue Bells of Scotland" in unison is well-known. A totally different effect is three alto recorders playing perfectly in tune with each other and the strings! Superb! Blaker mentioned after the concert that she always tried to conduct "Der stürmende Aeolus" faster than the orchestra can play it. She didn’t get it quite that fast this time, but the thrill was there. The orchestra was working without a net and didn’t ever fall!
Note: The debut tour of this new ensemble included concerts in Davidson and Durham prior to this Greenville performance.